Welcome to the College of Transfiguration, NPC - a provincial centre for the training of Anglican clergy.

ONGOING THEOLOGICAL FORMATION

Friday, 29 April 2016 
 
This talk was based on Markham, I. (2010). Theological Education in the twenty first century. Retrieved from www.anglicantheologicalreview.org


Theological discernment within the Anglican church tradition is the work that takes seriously the text of scripture, gives an appropriate voice to the communion of saints who have gone before us, and take the God given gifts of reason into account. So any effective theological formation needs to be good in training and tradition. We must work within a framework of text and community. Knowledge and reason is the result of hard work of theological communities that struggle with the complexity of the world and start arriving in plausible accounts.  
 
One Scottish philosopher, Alasdair MacIntyre’s work looms very large over theological formation. MacIntyre wants us all to recognise that we’re tradition constituted. Being tradition constituted means working within a particular tradition and formulating a coherent, thoughtful understanding of the world that compels and persuades those who discover it. This clearly shows that a priest cannot be content with a formation which is predominantly practical, spirit led and theologically mediocre. Although not every priest is called to be a specialist in theology, there does exist a relationship between pastoral ministry and theological competence. Priests are expected to exercise a truly theological ministry in the Christian community without it being necessary for them to be professional theologians. Priest are in fact responsible for preaching and teaching in the church and that requires theological competence.  
 
Practical theology and indeed homiletics should have as its base a firm foundation in biblical studies, systematic theology, ethics and liturgical theology. Because in its nature practical theology is a field of theology that should take the work of all these fields and ask so how ought we to act, what ought we to say. This is the same with missiology and evangelism. One just can't call themselves an evangelist or a missionary or a pastor without a firm grounding in theology. Otherwise we would run the risk of experimenting on peoples lives. Theological education, as there is in the Anglican tradition, must reflect the following characteristics:  
 
1. It is creedal. The apostles and the Nicene creeds are properly foundational. These express the triune nature of God, and make the story of Jesus central. The creeds are a fence around the mystery. They are an attempt to exclude inappropriate God talk. So in the creeds we learn of the self-disclosing God. In the creeds we learn of the second person of the Trinity being made flesh. So when the question arises, on what basis do we know what God is like? The answer given through the creeds is through Jesus of Nazareth. Our primary Word is the life of Jesus from whom we learn of a God who loves and includes. This primary Word stands in judgment on everything including the Bible from which rather paradoxically we learn of the primary Word. In short, the creeds are our epistemology. Theological formation must therefore ground us in the interpretation tools for scripture, tools and frameworks for reading the Word, Jesus. And a fair grounding in the historical events and theologies that gave rise to the councils that gave us the creeds. We clearly cannot therefore have a priest who is content with a formation which is predominantly practical and theologically shallow.  
 
2. It is liturgical. We keep company with those traditions which believe in the importance of the work of the people taking a structured form. The logic and flow of the service of the Holy Eucharist in the prayer book is based on ancient tradition and is exceptionally well thought out. So for example as we learn of the nature of God, the God we are worshipping through the hearing of the written word and the proclamation of the eternal word so we then re-affirm our faith before entering into the presence of God for prayer. We bring our petitions to a God we are confident will hear them because of how the liturgy is structured. We are confident because through the reading and preaching of the word we know what God is like. This is just one illustration of how remarkable the liturgy is. Without a good theological formation, we get priests who cannot understand the traditional theology embedded in the liturgy and that with its confusion about what the church is doing in being a liturgical church. Therefore, we get congregations who have no clue what they are doing in worship because the leaders themselves have got no clue. 
 
3. It is intrinsically engaged. It is engaged with all the main trajectories of human knowledge and understanding. Thus we learn from the orthodox method embodied in the works of, for instance, Augustine of Hippo, or Thomas Aquinas, that our obligation as Christians is to learn of God's truth wherever that truth is to be found. Augustine engaged throughout his lifetime with Platonism, Aquinas learnt from Muslim and Jewish scholars to shape a theology that continues to dominate many conversations in the church today. We therefore cannot have priests who do not have a fair grasp of the tradition of the church and have a shallow theological foundation. Effective leadership in the Anglican tradition must remain rooted in the tradition of Anglicanism, in liturgical experience and the human quest for knowledge and truth.  
 
An emphasis on any single characteristic will be distorting. If you emphasise one and not the other, you are distorting. In the Anglican way we draw on the Anglican emphasis on incarnation, we learn from a Christ who called us to be different yet never gave up on anyone. We are the tradition that lives with scripture and struggles to interpret the text in and through the context in which we live. The Anglican way is to engage with modernity because we believe, not because we are sceptical of the truth of the gospel. When we decide to engage with modern culture, we do so because of our beliefs not despite them. It is also an intrinsic part of our tradition that we continue to listen to scientists, scholars of political and social sciences, and theologians from the liberal traditions. Such hard work is not a betrayal of our tradition but a manifest act of fidelity to it because our tradition is that we engage. This cannot be proper understood without proper theological formation.  
 
At this point I think it is important to recognise that we do have our fair share of 'scars', people who sit awkwardly with this or that part of the creed and they are not sure to what extent they should believe it or whether infact it is true. It is important to recognise why their presence is welcome, it is because we are a creedal church that believe that Jesus shows us God. And we believe that God meets people where they are whatever their belief. We are a liturgical church and that the liturgy can do the hard work of acclamation for us especially when we are in doubt and confusion. The centrality of the psalms in our liturgy, for an example, is an explicit biblical affirmation that God welcomes us in the midst of all our countless needs, fears, confusion and problems that we all experience. So seekers are welcome because we believe.  
 
Priests exercise their ministry in a church that is moving and seeking to adapt herself to the new needs that are emerging both within herself and in the world. In such circumstances some theological doctrines constitutes an indispensable prerequisite both for correcting and interpreting what Vatican II term 'the signs of the times' and for facing new situations. So if the church is facing new situations and new experiences, for the church to be able to adapt to those experiences and new situations we need to have leaders who have clear doctrinal training and theological formation. Otherwise people will be eating snakes in the church because we are failing to respond to new situations in the world and respond to them theologically. 
 
Priests of today will also have to exercise their ministry among people who are more critical and better informed immersed in a world of ideological pluralism where Christianity is exposed to many interpretations and suspicions that are common to a culture becoming evermore alien to Christianity. It will be impossible for any priest to serve the community effectively without sound theological formation began in seminary and carried on beyond seminary. It should be noted that many among the laity have more extensive theological knowledge. Many of them study in schools and faculties of theology, they listen into conversations happening in theological conferences. This demands that clergy must have a high level of theological preparation and such theological reading should continue beyond the confines of theological seminary. Otherwise we will have a situation that the priest doesn't know what he/she is saying and the congregation knows what he/she should be saying.  
 
We must admit that there is a growing scepticism about the Christian faith. Theological formation should help clergy to be more critical and engage with such scepticism from a point of clear doctrinal teaching and understanding. The new task of theology is therefore to face new situations and problems, experiences and different needs, and induce emphasis of some of the dimensions of theological research and teaching. In the past theology developed in the world in which its culture accommodated it easy, today society is secular and often indifferent from religious problems and no longer sympathetic to the faith or teachings of the church. It is therefore most necessary to work to make the gospel understood by our contemporaries. We must find language adapted to the situation we have now but such a task is too delicate and serious to be left to improvisation and initiatives of individuals who are not theologically formed. It is rightly the task of theology to provide a contribution of sound scholarship and clear doctrine taking into consideration the context of the people and thereby framing language even where language fails. It is true that language fails us when we talk about God but it is a task of theology to endeavor to search for and propose some 'language'. 
 
Furthermore there are great problems in the modern world which call upon theology for solution. Recent theology has for instance shown itself sensitive to the economic, social and political problems of humanity seen in the light of the gospel. A great awareness of the social implications and consequences of dogma and of what we say and how we articulate doctrinal teaching should have a high level of theological reflection. Because theology today has started to listen to other fields of study, what we say when we say anything, we should foresee the consequences of what we say about God, salvation or anything. If you are not theologically trained you will not have the tools to foresee this. You will not even be able to reason with other people, if you yourself can't explain the doctrine of the Trinity.  
 
The engaging with other fields of study is a result of understanding our own theology. Theological disciplines are now open to new problems, new philosophies and new contributions of science. The function of theology is to investigate revelation and to study it in depth. It disguises its limits and plays its part in homogeneous development according to the needs of faith and the signs of the times. Theology doesn't hinder spirituality but it informs it, it is very influential to the spiritual led because it clarifies and deepens the sense of what salvation is and the way of spiritual progressing. Theology must pick-up the human problems and bring them to the first lense and see where they come together, where they differ and offer a prophetic voice. Your learning is never complete as long as the world is changing so there is a need for continual theological formation.  
 
 
Revd Gcebile Gina
Lecturer


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